Thursday, June 30, 2011

Freedom to Worship Our God

This Sunday is July 3, just one day removed from Independence Day.  Recognizing that, I want to give thanks for the privilege of living in America.  I am thankful for all of our freedoms.  I recognize that there are many places on this planet where Christians, in particular, are not free to gather to worship God.  And, I enjoy the festivities that come with the celebration of our American independence.  I enjoy the picnics and parades, the patriotic music, the community gatherings, and, of course, the fireworks. 

Having said that, every pastor must deal with the question of what to do on the Sunday nearest the Fourth of July.  Now, for some pastors, there is no question at all.  Some will be doing special patriotic services.  They will do these without a second thought.  Some will be planning to use such patriotic services as an evangelistic tool; promoting and advertising their patriotic service in order to get new people in.

I'm not one of those pastors.

Let me be quick to say, I think that it is fine, good, and even appropriate for churches to celebrate the Fourth together.  I think that it is fine, good, and even appropriate to have a time of musical celebration; a special service of sorts; maybe a choir cantata, or a service of patriotic hymns, or even a special preaching service (certainly it is good to have a pitch-in dinner!).  -  I just have a tremendous problem with the idea of such a service taking the place of the time when the Church gathers to worship our God.

I have seen it happen time and time again.  I have come away from such services recognizing that we have not praised or worshipped God at all.  We have, instead, "praised America."  Oh, we have invoked God in both prayers and in music, but God is almost always, exclusively invoked as a means of blessing this nation which we are engaged in praising.  -  Just take a quick look at the patriotic "hymns" found in our hymnals and see how God is used.

Let me use the Sing to the Lord hymnal from my denomination (Church of the Nazarene).  It lists eight hymns in the "Patriotic" section.  One is "O Canada!", and one is "God Save the Queen."  I think it is fair to skip those two!  -  Two others, "Eternal Father, Strong to Save" and the national hymn, "God of Our Fathers," are likely not sung during "worship" on (or near) Independence Day or Memorial Day (at least that has been my experience).  -  However, that leaves these well known hymns:  "Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory" (the Battle Hymn), "My Country, 'Tis of Thee," "America, the Beautiful," and "The Star-spangled Banner."

With a few exceptions, I enjoy singing those songs outside of the worship setting.  However, let's take a quick look at them in connection to the setting of Christian worship.

"Mine Eyes . . ." is, of course, the "Battle Hymn."  This song, does, indeed, invoke God.  "Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord . . ."  Yet, the song combines the purposes of God with the march of a nation at war.  God's wrath is being poured out, as "His truth is marching on."  In the final verse, we are reminded of Christ's birth, His glory that transfigures us, and His death "to make men holy."  However, the latter is expressed in the line that says, "As He died to make men holy, let us die ("live" in times of peace) to make men free, While God is marching on." 

Please hear me on this.  While profoundly grateful to those who have been willing to die for our freedom, I must note that, unlike Christ who died to make us holy, these brave men and women are not simply going forth to die.  They are willing to die, if need be.  They are putting their lives on the line.  However, as they do so, they are also going forth to defend us, to fight, to kill the enemy.  While their willingness to make the ultimate sacrifice deserves our profound and deep gratitude, it is difficult for me to sing a song in the context of worship that intends to make the comparison between Christ who died to make us holy (while calling us to love our enemies), and those who are willing to die while fighting to kill our enemies.

I know, I know!  -  But please remember, we are trying to look at these songs from within the context of Christian Worship, and I find this to be problematic for Christian worship.

When we look to "My Country, "Tis of Thee," I think the title says it all.  We are singing, not of God, but of our country.  I like this song, and I like to sing it at patriotic gatherings, but ought we really sing a song in which the first three of four verses never mention God, but are focused on the praise of our country, and then call this Christian worship?  When we get to the fourth verse, it does sing to God.  But, immediately upon addressing God, we discover that the purpose of our singing to God is so that God will bless and protect our country of which God is declared to be "our King!"  -  So the entire focus of the song is on praising our nation, with the final verse asking our nation's King to bless and protect our nation.  -  Again, I like to sing the song in patriotic settings, but is this really a song fitting for the worship of God?

"America, the Beautiful" is a bit better than the last song in terms of invoking God.  Each verse praises America, and each verse ends asking God's various blessings upon America.  -  I like the song, but it is clear that the focus of praise is America.  God is recognized.  God is seen as needed.  God is invoked.  And I think that it is appropriate to ask for God's blessings upon the nation.  Yet, God is not the One who is praised and worshipped.

Finally, "The Star-spangled Banner" focuses upon our nations flag in the context of war.  The first two of three verses says nothing about God.  The final verse does, and it does so in a way that may be somewhat more fitting for worship in that it acknowledges that our nation is "heav'n-rescued," and it calls us to "Praise the Pow'r that hath made and preserved us a nation!"  -  Of all of the hymns that we have looked at, this is the only one which actually praises God.  This verse goes on to declare that our motto is, "In God is our trust!"

Now, my point in all of this is not to "rag on" these patriotic hymns.  As I have said (with some slight exceptions), I like to sing these songs.  I enjoy singing them in a patriotic setting.  I am thankful that God is invoked in such a patriotic setting.  I think that it is fine and good for a church to have a time when the people of the church can come together and celebrate our freedom and our nation.  I am just not willing to set aside our worship of God in order to praise our nation.  -  To do so, for me, would run awfully close to idolatry.  (But then again, please understand, that I am not willing to have gospel singing groups in for a "concert" in place of the worship of God's people, either.  I'm happy to have them on a Sunday night, or I am even willing to let them sing the "special" or offertory during worship, but I do not want them to take away the people's work of activelyworshipping God.)

In fact, I think it is at this point of the praise of our nation that the church in America comes the closest to overt idolatry.

I must confess, I was frustrated recently while attending a "Camp Meeting" service at an historic holiness Camp Meeting tabernacle in our area.  It was an open-air tabernacle.  On the front wall were the familiar words, "Holiness Unto the Lord."  But, as we sang one of the gospel songs, I found my self looking up to gaze on the cross above the pulpit . . . only there was no cross there.  Instead, the American flag was stretch open above the pulpit.  Oh, the pulpit was designed with a cross on the front, but no cross on the wall, just the American flag.  A cross could have added so much meaning as we were singing, but the flag only drew my focus away from God.

Of course, I have seen the pictures of the old "Glory Barn" of P. F. Bresee's day.  Bresee was the first general superintendent (bishop) and the principle founder of the Church of the Nazarene.  The "Glory Barn" was home for Los Angeles Nazarenes.  And I have seen the pictures of all of the American flags draped everywhere in celebration of Memorial Day and Independence Day.

One nation under God?
These days, I drive around and see churches, not just with American flags displayed, but with American flags flying over Christian flags.  It is clear the symbolism of flying flags.  It is also clear the symbolism of which flag goes on top.  In America, if a flag is flown on the same pole as the American flag, it is always flown under the American flag BECAUSE our ultimate/primary allegiance is to our nation.  But for Christians, our primary/first/ultimate allegiance is to Christ.  Nevertheless, to fly a Christian flag below any national flag is to symbolize that our allegiance to Christ is secondary to our allegiance to that nation.  That may not be what anyone intends to say, but that is the symbolism.  -  And that sounds a lot like idolatry.

I think that it is appropriate to be mindful of the holiday during our time of prayer, and perhaps even in the sermon, so long as it is done in a way that does not take the focus away from the God whom we worship.

What I would suggest is to encourage churches to plan to stay after worship for a pitch-in/pot luck dinner on the grounds, with games, followed by a patriotic service and celebration.  During that time of celebration, I would joyously encourage the singing of patriotic songs.  But when the Church gathers to worship, if I have any say in the matter, we will gather to worship God.

(As I close, I will confess, this year I'm on vacation over this weekend, so I am free from having to engage in this battle.  And honestly, I am thankful that I don't have to deal with it.  -  Who knows what I will get when I go to worship, Sunday.  I do hope, though, that I am able to worship God.)

Feel free to share your thoughts, but please try to be Christlike in doing so!

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

A Few Changes

I have just finished making a few changes in the various links on the sidebar of this blog.  Unfortunately, I felt that, if my blog links were to be helpful, some of those links should be removed due to their inactivity.  -  I know that such a charge could be leveled against me, at times.  However, the links that I removed have been dormant far longer than I have allowed between my posts. 

Now, if one of my readers find that I have removed your blog link, don't worry.  I have saved all of them in a file, so I can keep track of them.  It is my hope that they will become more active, so I can include them on this blog once again.

In the meantime, I have discovered a few more links, which I have added to the sidebar.  Some of them are quite new to me.  Time will tell how valuable they may be.  I would encourage you to check them out.

First, under the Nazarene Links, you will find Evangelism/Vital Church Renewal.  This is a part of the official site for the Church of the Nazarene, but I think that it will be of value to non-Nazarenes, as well.

Under the Anglican Links I have added a link to Bishop Todd Hunter's site.  +Hunter is a bishop in the Anglican Mission in America.  I am not personally familiar with +Hunter, but I have seen his name listed on a number of Anglican sites I have visited.

Under the Blog Roll, I have added three new links.  Adiaphora is the blog site of Fr. Chris Larimer.  Chris+ is a priest in the Anglican Church in North America.  He is from the Louisville, Kentucky area (just across the river from me), which is how he first caught my attention.  He has recently been installed as Rector of Holy Apostles Anglican Church in Elizabethtown, KY.  -  I think he stands on the Calvinist side of the tracks, but I'm willing to give him a bit of a pass for the time being. :0) 

Next, I've added a link to Confessions of a Closet Anglican by the Rev'd. Tim Powers.  Tim+ is a United Methodist pastor serving in the same Annual Conference as myself (the Indiana Annual Conference).  Like myself, Tim+ is also a member of the Order of St. Luke.

Finally, under the Blog Roll, I added a link to Old Worship New.  The goal of this blog is, as the title implies, viz., to make old worship (liturgical worship) new!  This blog is brand new to me.  I'll be checking it out over the next few weeks.  It appears to be written by three Lutherans with Masters of Sacred Music degrees.

I have also added a link,  under the Other Links of Interest section, for The Book of Common Prayer Online.  (I know that there are other links to the various Books of Common Prayer, and I would be happy for readers to post them in the comments section!)

In addition to all of these, I have invited folks who are members of my Wesleyan/Anglican Facebook group to post links to related blogs.  If you are on Facebook, but haven't joined the Wesleyan/Anglican group, I invite you to do so.  There has been some great discussions taking place on that group page in recent days.

If you have a blog that is related to Wesleyan/Methodist, Anglican, Wesleyan/Anglican, or liturgical kinds of things, and you are not already listed on my side bar, feel free to post them in a comments.  I won't guarantee that they will be listed on the sidebar, but I'm happy for you to plug your blog (if its subject matter is related to one of these areas).

Friday, June 3, 2011

God's Presence and Grace in the Eucharist

When we come to the Table of the Lord to receive the Holy Sacrament known as the Eucharist (or the Lord's Supper, or Holy Communion), we are called to partake of the body and blood of Christ our Savior and Lord.  In the West, in particular, the Church over the centuries has tried to specify how, exactly, the partaking of the the bread and cup are a partaking of the body and blood of Christ.  (The East has not been so interested in such determinations.) 

There have been four primary understandings concerning this issue.

  The Roman Catholic position is called transubstantiation.  While there has been some relatively recent reinterpretation of how to talk about transubstantiation by contemporary Catholic theologians, the position basically means that the substance of the bread and wine are changed into the substance of the physical body and blood of Christ during the prayer, while the "accidents" remain those of bread and wine.  This view relies on Aristotle's distinction between substance and attributes, though, as I indicated, some more recent Catholic theologians have begun to reinterpret this doctrine along relational and personalistic lines, rather than Aristotilean lines).

The Lutheran position is called consubstantiation.  In this understanding, the bread and wine do not miraculously become the body and blood of Christ.  They remain bread and wine, but the presence of Christ is said to be "in, with, and under the elements."  Therefore, in receiving the bread and wine, one also receives the body and blood of Christ.

Ulrich Zwingli's view (taken up by many Evangelical churches) is called the memorialist view.  For Zwingli, the bread and wine signify  Christ's body and blood.  The sacrament (or ordinance) does not convey salvific grace, but rather it is a sign of grace that has already been received by faith.  The Table, then reminds us of the redemption won by the death of Christ.  However, to be fair (and many who hold this position do not understand this aspect), it is not simply a "mental" remembering.  Rather, it is a remembrance by reenactment.  (In reality, all of the positions would agree that the Sacrament is a memorial.  The other positions would say, however, that it is much more than just a memorial.)

Calvin's position is called spiritual presence.  Calvin's position rejects the Roman and Lutheran position, on the one hand, and Zwingli's position on the other hand.  Like the Roman and Lutheran positions, Calvin held that Christ is truly present and actually feeds believers with His body and blood.  At issue is how this happens.  Since it is believed that Christ is bodily present in heaven, He is seen to be spiritually present by the Holy Spirit, so that the Supper is a true communion with Christ, who feeds us with His body and His blood.  Rob Staples quotes Calvin as saying, "Now, if anyone should ask me how this takes place, I shall not be ashamed to confess that it is a secret too lofty for either my mind to comprehend or my words to declare.  And, to speak more plainly, I rather experience than understand it."  (Emphasis mine.  And it should be said that for all of this, I am relying heavily upon Rob Staples, cf. below.)

Of these four positions, the Wesleyan view is most similar to that of Calvin's, though there are some differences.  (Some Wesleyan denominations, particularly the Church of the Nazarene, may, unfortunately, sound Zwinglian in their Articles of Faith, but one must view terms like "sacrament" within a self-professed Wesleyan context, and one must take into consideration other statements and the ritual, itself, which affirms that the position is not merely Zwinglian.)  Wesley rejected the other three positions and held to a real, spiritual presence of Christ in the sacrament.  However, Calvin talks about Christ's body being present in terms of "power," mediated by the Holy Spirit, while Wesley speaks of the presence of Christ in terms of His divinity.

Like Calvin, Wesley was not so concerned as to explain the how of Christ's presence.  Instead, he was concerned that the faithful experience the reality of Christ's presence.  -  Such an emphasis is expressed in the following two Wesley hymns taken from J. Ernest Rattenbury's, The Eucharistic Hymns of John and Charles Wesley:


1. O the depth of love Divine,
Th' unfathomable grace!
Who shall say how bread and wine
God into man conveys!
How the bread His flesh impart,
How the wine transmits His blood,
Fills His faithful people's hearts
With all the life of God!

2. Let the wisest mortal show
How we the grace receive,
Feeble elements bestow
A power not theirs to give.
Who explains the wondrous way,
How through these the virtue came?
These the virtue did convey,
Yet still remain the same.

3. How can heavenly spirits rise,
By earthly matter fed,
Drink herewith Divine supplies,
And eat immortal bread?
Ask the Father's Wisdom how;
Him that did the means ordain!
Angels round our altars bow
To search it out in vain.

4. Sure and real is the grace,
The manner be unknown;
Only meet us in Thy ways,
And perfect us in one.
Let us taste the heavenly powers;
Lord, we ask for nothing more:
Thine to bless, 'tis only ours
To wonder and adore.

And . . .


1. God incomprehensible
Shall man presume to know;
Fully search Him out, or tell
His wondrous ways below?
Him in all His ways we find
How the means transmit the power -
Here He leaves our thoughts behind,
And faith inquires no more.

2. How He did these creatures raise,
And make this bread and wine
Organs to convey His grace
To this poor soul of mine,
I cannot the way descry,
Need not know the mystery;
Only this I know - that I
Was blind, but now I see.

3. Now mine eyes are open'd wide,
To see His pardoning love,
Here I view the God that died
My ruin to remove;
Clay upon mine eyes He laid,
(I at once my sight received,)
Bless'd, and bid me eat the bread,
And lo! my soul believed.


As indicated, above, much of this post has drawn from Rob Staples' Outward Sign and Inward Grace: The Place of Sacraments in Wesleyan Spirituality. Beacon Hill P. Kansas City, MO. 1991.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Ascension Day

Today, forty days into the Easter Season, is the day  the Church celebrates the Ascension of our Risen Lord.  In celebration of the Ascension of Christ, I have printed a hymn, below, from William C. Dix (1866), followed by the Collect for Ascension Day from the Book of Common Prayer:

Alleluia! Sing to Jesus

1. Alleluia! sing to Jesus!
His the scepter, His the throne.
Alleluia! His the triumph,
His the victory alone.
Hark! the songs of peaceful Zion
Thunder like a mighty flood:
"Jesus out of ev'ry nation
Has redeemed us by His blood."

2. Alleluia! not as orphans
Are we left in sorrow now.
Alleluia! He is near us;
Faith believes, nor questions how.
Tho' the clouds from sight received Him
When the forty days were o'er,
Shall our hearts forget His promise:
"I am with you evermore"?

3. Alleluia! bread of Heaven,
You on earth our food and stay!
Alleluia! here the sinful
Flee to You from day to day.
Intercessor, Friend of sinners,
Earth's Redeemer, plead for me,
Where the songs of all the sinless
Sweep across the crystal sea.
(Sung to HYFRYDOL)

Grant, we pray, Almighty God, that as we believe your only-begotten Son our Lord Jesus Christ to have ascended into heaven, so we may also in heart and mind there ascend, and with him continually dwell; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.